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HHSAA Volleyball:Cowgirls run into Hawaii Baptist Academy buzz saw

Updated: 
October 26, 2017 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — Kohala ran into an ILH powerhouse that looks like a David but is disguised as a Goliath, and the volleyball battlefield was tilted in Hawaii Baptist Academy’s favor all afternoon long.

Though much smaller, the efficient Eagles swept the Cowgirls 25-12, 25-8, 25-16 in the first round of the HHSAA Division II tournament on Wednesday at Kaimuki High’s gym on Oahu.

The Cowgirls (13-8) and Eagles (11-4) finished third in their respective leagues, the BIIF and ILH, respectively. That’s where the similarities end.

HBA is a seasoned team at states with a long track record of success with championships in 2007, ’08, ’09, and 2015 and has reached the tourney every year since statewide classification started in 2005.

The Eagles still have several key parts back from last year’s state runner-up team, including 5-foot-6 outside hitter Kallie Langford, who found the floor for 16 kills and hit .263. She doesn’t jump out of the gym or have a rocket for a right arm, but she gets the job done.

Courtney Arume is two inches shorter but had a super productive outing with six kills and a .714 hitting clip for HBA, which pounded more kills than Kohala, 37-11. She’s Example A of how a small player can be a hitting giant. She’s also small but deadly and effective.

Ally Wada was an unsung weapon. The 5-7 senior setter consistently put up clean balls three feet off the net to give her hitters attacking options. She’s like an offensive lineman who never gets noticed and doesn’t give up any quarterback sacks.

The Eagles bring to mind a tennis player who just returns the ball back and waits for the opponent to hit into the net, long or wide for an unforced error. They had a much better hitting percentage, .179 to negative .070.

The Cowgirls probably figured they were in for a tough one when their best server Kiana Kauka, who hits a wicked top-spin sinker, had just one ace against two service errors. Her team ended with eight service errors; HBA had nine aces and just two service errors and put on a serve-receive passing clinic.

Zaz Matsu found a small measure of production with four kills and a .250 hitting clip for Kohala. Everyone else struggled against HBA’s defense, which scrambled for 39 digs. The Cowgirls had 27 digs.

In the first set, Langford established herself early, scoring her team’s first eight points, including an ace. Then the Eagles kept putting together scoring runs and didn’t really stop.

To put an exclamation point on HBA’s persistence, match point concluded on the Eagles’ fifth swing, a kill by Langford, whose third attack had a safe landing to cap the long rally.

Often Kohala’s best source of offense was HBA’s hitting errors, 20 in all from 95 swings. The Cowgirls took just 71 swings, a result of too many free balls, and committed 16 hitting miscues.

Kohala coach Nick Lorenzo was impressed with two things: HBA’s hustle and preparation.

“They made an attempt on every ball,” he said. “They would have pukas, and the defense would move. It was hard for our girls to attack.

“Their coach, Myles Shioji, knew a lot about us. He was telling me the scores of some of our games.”

Shioji has also figured out a blueprint on how to beat other teams with more height and firepower.

“We have to stay consistent mentally and play every point the same,” he said. “Point 1 is the same as Point 25. We’re not the biggest team or hit the hardest. We normally have short players.”

But the one who is tall serves as hitting target at practice. Brittney O’Donnell, who had two kills, is a 5-10 senior middle blocker. Shioji noted the Eagles go through hitting rep after hitting rep, so every Eagle is taking tool shots off O’Donnell at practice.

“We have mini-games at practice and make every point a pressure point as much as possible,” Shioji said.

And much like Division I, which has won 38 of 47 or 80 percent of the state championships, Division II is also turning into an ILH monopoly. Konawaena brought home back-to-back titles in 2013 and ’14 and Molokai won it in 2010, but the ILH has secured the other nine or 75 percent.

HBA finished as the state runner-up to Le Jardin last season but won the ILH title. The Bulldogs (13-1) are the No. 1 seed and play ILH No. 3 Sacred Hearts in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Sacred Hearts swept Hawaii Prep 25-14, 25-16, 25-19 at Saint Francis’ gym. Madi Lee led the BIIF runner-up Ka Makani (9-10) with 13 kills and hit .211.

The ILH Division II schools don’t get to play the Division I titans like Iolani, Kamehameha or Punahou, but their competition is pretty tough. The Eagles lost to Le Jardin, Sacred Hearts, and Damien during the regular season.

“In ILH Division II, it’s very competitive,” Shioji said. “There are no easy matches, and the league strengthens us.”

Like most successful teams, the Eagles have a good leader in Wada, who was part of the 2015 state championship and last year’s runner-up squad.

“She’s even-keeled, and the way she plays the girls respect her,” Shioji said. “And when she does have something to say, she’ll lead the team.”

The Cowgirls are getting seasoned, too. It’s their second consecutive trip to states. Matsu is a senior but Kauka and Mikayla Kekoa, the two middles, and hitters Cheylin Imai and Shania Fuertes are all juniors.

Lorenzo is hoping Kohala gets promoted to the Red division, where they’ll get a chance to play the powerhouse trio of Hilo, Kamehameha, and Waiakea twice during the regular season.

He’s also well aware that the BIIF has had Goliaths at the Division II state level before.

“Konawaena has won it twice, and Hawaii Prep is at that level,” he said.

Maybe the Cowgirls join their league counterparts and reach a state championship match someday. If anything, the battle against the Eagles served as a good blueprint.

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